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Pitt defeats North Carolina, 73-65

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NCAA Basketball: Pittsburgh at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Early in the second half, I had been prepared to write a post-game recap about Pitt’s inability to score points in a loss to North Carolina. After all, the Panthers scored only 28 first-half points and trailed the Tar Heels by nine at halftime. The competitive start they had sort of dried up and it looked like it was going to be ‘one of those games.’

But Pitt surged in the second half and rallied for a surprising 73-65 road victory, scoring 44 in the second half.

Few could have predicted the result at halftime. The Tar Heels were missing Cole Anthony, the team’s best player and North Carolina (8-7) has really struggled this season. Still, the game was on their court and with a nine-point halftime lead and Pitt’s offense nowhere in sight, it just would have been hard to predict a Panther victory at that point.

With the win, Pitt also snapped a 22-game ACC road losing streak that dated back to 2017.

Pitt only had five players score, which typically would result in disaster. But the Panthers got really big games from the trio of Justin Champagnie (22 points), Trey McGowens (24 points), and Xavier Johnson (17 points). Even more importantly, all three players shot well, making more than 50% of their shots and McGowens and Champagnie combined for eight three-pointers.

Combine that with a pretty bad North Carolina team and, well, you’ve got your result.

It goes without saying but you really have to give Pitt credit here. To get down by nine at halftime and to claw your way back after a pretty poor offensive performance was just great to see.

And the Panthers’ defense, as it has so often this year, held up tonight. I said earlier that it was still a bit unknown if Pitt was truly as good defensively as they looked. But the more games that pass by, they do look like a legitimately good defensive squad. Night in and night out, they’ve continued turning in really strong defensive performances. They not only kept North Carolina to 65 points but contested shots and forced the Tar Heels into 17 turnovers.

I don’t know that the players are particularly great one-on-one defenders. And you see some really dumb mistakes from time to time, like McGowens fouling a jump shooter tonight. But overall, I don’t know how you complain about the team’s defense. They’ve yet to give up 80 points all year long and they’ve only allowed one team to score more than 75.

Look, this doesn’t seem like it’s going to be a great year for the Tar Heels. I don’t want to make this seem like it’s some major upset or even a very good win. But for a Pitt team that is still finding its footing out there, you’ll take as many of these kinds of games as you can get. North Carolina is going to be an excellent team most of the time and when you can catch them on down years like this, you really have to take advantage of it.

Plus, don’t forget — the Panthers just blew a 16-point lead in a loss against Wake Forest. If you’re Pitt, you celebrate this win just as much as you would if the Tar Heels were ranked No. 1 in the nation. Any road win in conference is a big one at this stage.

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